Mercer Ranks No.1 in Nation for Rate of Hepatitis B Cases
Mercer County, W.Va., will provide free hepatitis B vaccine to those at highest risk of contracting the disease. According to Judy Bolton, RN, public health nurse, Mercer County has the highest number of hepatitis B cases in the nation. The latest figures, which are two to three years old, indicate that the hepatitis B rate in Mercer County is 36 per 100,000 people, compared to the rate of 3.6 per 100,000 in the state of West Virginia. The national rate is 1.2 per 100,000 people. West Virginia is also third in the nation for hepatitis C cases.
Bolton explained that the high hepatitis rates were assumed to be related to high drug use, as both hepatitis B and C are contracted through contact with hepatitis-infected blood. She noted that the exposure could happen by injecting or snorting drugs, as it takes very little blood to carry the infection. Hepatitis B is also sexually transmitted and can be contracted by sharing glucose monitors. Other high-risk factors include multiple sex partners, history of STDs, and history of tattooing or body piercing.
The vaccine consists of three injections administered throughout a 16-week period. It is important to have all three shots to be protected. The health department does not provide free hepatitis testing on request, but in the course of investigating a case, they will test people who may have contracted the disease. Individuals who want to be tested should visit their family physician and order the test. Individuals who are interested in being vaccinated for hepatitis B should contact the health department at (304) 324–8367.
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